The Giotto Report | de Espana

A very happy new year to you! I truly hope it’s a good one for you, your family and friends.
Thought I’d start off the year by sending out a report on my trip to Spain last month.  I was invited by a group of Spanish government entities and one of our top travel partners in Madrid to a week long fact finding trip to the Iberian peninsula.  Yet another tough assignment that I was coerced into taking.
reina sofia madrid

Where in Spain | What about Spain?

The Costa Blanca  extends south along the Mediterranean from Valencia (which is about 4 hours south of Barcelona), in the eastern part of the country.  It’s north of Granada and the beach resorts of MarbellaAlicant, as it’s known in the Catalan language, is about 90 minutes south of Valencia.  And it really is pronounced Valen-thia and I now know that the lisp is genuine, which was hard for me to say growing up where I learned Mexican and Cuban Spanish.  Cuenca is half way to Madrid from Valencia, in the region of La Mancha.  Madrid is in the geographical center of the country so that’s easy.
As you probably know I lived in Italy and  have toured around a fair amount.  I’ve seen some of France, and was in Barcelona for 2 days in 1984 when I worked for Royal Viking Line.  I haven’t been back since. So I was expecting the Spain that I saw to be like “Italy 2” or “France, the Sequel.” But it wasn’t.  The people were more ‘northern’ in temperament and very friendly.  A little less jaded than others and  they were excited to see American tourists, who are in much shorter supply than in Italy or France.  And that was a huge plus.  For example, we were in a church and one of the priests showed us 500 year old vestments that were just sitting in a drawer. You wouldn’t see that in Italy’s third largest city.  Because the parts of Spain I saw were built of granite and came off quite severe, the charm factor was less than I was expecting.  And one must avoid the beaches where I was because they’re horrendously overbuilt. Benidorm is probably one of the ugliest places I’ve ever seen – at least from the highway.


The old town is beautiful. Charming small streets, cafes, boutiques, churches. Just like one would hope to see in Spain. The Hospes Amerigo  hotel is straight out of Metropolitan Home which appealed to my design sense, but the lack of attentive service didn’t appeal to my 5 star sensibility. The food in the hotel, however, was fantastic and worthy of my snobbish San Francisco foodie palate – especially the mushroom soup. Just another reminder to my clients – looks aren’t everything and you need to know the whole story before deciding on a hotel based solely on photos.   Outside of the charming historical center, and the very sixties mosaic promenade along the harbor (I loved it), the town is overbuilt with buildings better suited for the Eastern Bloc.  I’d probably recommend Sicily instead.


Did you know that Lladro is made here? It’s true and we went to the factory to check it out. OK, Lladro really isn’t my style but how they make it was very interesting and I think worth a visit. Valencia also hosts the Americas Cup and a Formula One racing venue.  I’m an Urban guy and Valencia, Spain’s 3rd largest city, has a very nice mix of old and new, northern African and European. We had 2 of our most memorable dinners here, too. We ate at arrop richard camarena, a super chic 1 star Michelin restaurant. I’d kill for a house that looked like this place. But the food was a little strange. Our other dinner was at a small tapas restaurant apparently not in the best part of town – and that was the best meal we had in Spain. Go there – it’s called Casa Montana.

Cuenca | La Mancha

This is the cool part of Spain I got to see – the small towns that I love going to Europe for. After slugging through the modern ugly part of the city (which was weird), you’re transported back about 1000 years to this charming hillside village which is now a center for contemporary art. Ever been to Jerome, Arizona? It’s a little like that.  The only hotel in this part of town is a centuries old parador – a very cool place to stay. The paradores were old convents that were turned into hotels by the government about a 100 years ago. The government wanted to generate tourism, the country was short on hotels and there was a glut of unoccupied convents! To this day, they’re still run by the government. Most are 4 star but a couple are very high end. The one in Cuenca is about a 4 star, I’d say.


Everybody has been to Madrid, right? I’ll add that my favorite things were the Royal Palace, the Reina Sofia Museum and El Escorial. The Palacio Real is a truly opulent old palace. Everything from the wallpaper to the chandeliers to the drapes are dazzling. It’s unique in Europe.  The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofiais a modern museum which houses the newer stuff, after the Prado. Picasso’s Guernica is now here (I hadn’t seen it since it was at MOMA in New York) and it’s breathtaking. And the ante-room has a huge collection of studies which were fascinating – many in color! Who would of thought that once of the most famous b&w works in the world would have such a history!. In the next rooms were a documentary of the Spanish Civil War with photos by Robert Capa and others – a very sobering display. San Lorenzo de El Escorial was compared (as an opposite) to Versailles in my UCSD art history classes. It’s severe. It’s cold. It’s really cold. And, true to Spain versus other countries, it’s very much in its original condition without too much restoration. You can actually see the (now) dilapidated chairs that Phillip II sat on.

Hotels in Spain

The memorable hotels on this trip were the Westin Valencia (remember, Westin in Europe is better than it is in the USA), the Ritz Madrid (old world wonderful), the Villa Magna (new world wonderful in Madrid), the AC Santo Mauro and it’s sister hotel the AC Retiro (both in Madrid, ultra chic but historical). Of course, we have the contacts at these hotels to add much value to the room rate.

For More Information on Spain & Europe

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Photos of Spain & Around the World

Please visit my Flickr page for photos from this and all my trips.

reina sofia museum madrid

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